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Best of The Best

Best of The Best: A Brave World Title Attempt




From time to time, Stephenie Bjorkman had considered hosting a marriage vow-renewal ceremony in her store, Sami Fine Jewelry, for Valentine’s Day, but hadn’t made any firm plans. Then, around Christmas 2012, while surfing on Facebook, she found a flash-mob video shot at a mall in which hundreds of people all began singing at once. It made her think bigger. She decided to plan a community-wide event for Valentine’s 2013. She hoped for an event so big, in fact, that it would break a Guinness World Record of 1,088 couples set in 2009 in Ohio.



“From that point on, we planned the sucker between Christmas and Valentine’s,” Bjorkman says. “I called my minister and my mom (Sami Jack, the store’s namesake and founder) and we went to lunch to talk about it. My minister was totally in.” It didn’t hurt that Bjorkman’s minister is well known. The Rev. Larry James is also a relationship coach and author of the book Love the One You’re With, which was featured on The View.

After brainstorming with James and her mother, Bjorkman quickly got to work.

She recruited a florist, DJ and photographer and called the town of Fountain Hills to ask about using Fountain Hills Park, a favorite spot for local weddings for the event. Surprisingly, it had not yet been booked and the city agreed to donate the use of the park.

Because Sami Fine Jewelry had come to the rescue of the local casino with last-minute Christmas gifts for top customers, casino management was happy to help, too, by hosting an after-party with gambling coupons, appetizers, cake and a champagne toast.

“Marketing that should have taken six months, we did in six weeks,” Bjorkman says. “We used direct mail and newspaper as well as (free) TV. I hired someone to go to the bridal show and hand out fliers — not to the brides — but to their moms, maids of honor and friends.”

Most important for branding, Bjorkman kept control of the event. Because it was called Sami’s Love in the Hills, it was clear who the main organizer was. “I could make all the rules,” she says. She invited other local companies to participate, but they couldn’t buy their way in. They needed to donate their time, or an employee’s time. “I told them that on Valentine’s Day, they and their staff need to wear purple shirts that say, Sami’s Love in the Hills with the website on it, tell their customers about it and volunteer their time with registration.”


Businesses that wanted to put a gift item, coupon or flier in the event gift bags also needed to help stuff those gift bags. So, 30 people were on hand to stuff bags, easing the workload for Bjorkman and her staff.

All participants received a $50 certificate from the casino, and gift certificates from the florist and Sami’s.

Sami Fine Jewelry also gave out gift baskets for the couple who drove the farthest (160 miles), the couple who flew the farthest (from Holland), the youngest couple and the couple who were married the longest (72 years!), as well as the winner of a drawing. The winners received three nights at the Radisson, a huge bouquet, a portrait session and a relationship-coaching seminar from the minister.

Even the mayor of Fountain Hills and her husband renewed their vows.


“This was the coolest thing happening in Arizona, so it was pretty easy to get coverage,” Bjorkman says.

A local news helicopter flew over the event, as if it were stalking a celebrity wedding.

Local news anchors wore Sami Fine Jewelry pieces during promo segments for the event.

As a result of all that, Stephenie developed closer relationships with many members of the local media.

Sami Fine Jewelry also designed wedding bands (starting at $150) to commemorate the event. “We didn’t sell a ton of bands,” Bjorkman says. “It didn’t pay for the event. But what it did do was just this week I had a customer come in, talking about the event and walking out with a $7,000 ring. This is the type of goodwill event that you see results from all year. I could never advertise enough to get the goodwill that we generated.”

“When people sent thank-yous, they sent them to me. I’ve never done an event and had people be so incredibly grateful.

“The coolest thing for me after the event was that my Facebook page was on fire. If you have 1,500 people who attended your event and at least took one picture, all of their friends are going to see it and comment on it. More people are talking about the page now.


In all, 762 couples renewed their vows, but Bjorkman is hopeful about Valentine’s Day 2014. As Valentine’s Day edges closer to the weekend, she believes more people will be able to participate. In fact, she’s vowing to crush that record this year.

Here’s a sample of a thank-you email that Bjorkman received regarding the event.

“We cannot thank you & Sami’s enough. We attended the ‘Love In The Hills’ yesterday and we had a wonderful time. Everything about it was great!! The weather, the atmosphere, the people and the ceremony. All of our stuff in the goody bag is great. I am sure we will be using most of it. Valentine’s Day is our anniversary, we were married here in Fountain Hills and it was fun to celebrate with so many people. We went to the Fort (casino) afterward and we had appetizers and cake and then proceeded to play the slots. I won $118 on my first try with only $10 of the Fort’s money.”


Hire PR help.

To be considered by Guinness to break a record, Bjorkman learned, she would need to apply 12 weeks ahead of time. There are other rules to follow, too, with which she will be more familiar next time, including restricting access to the area and making sure everyone can produce proof of their marriage.

“If you put it on, there has to be a bossy in-charge decision maker,” she says. “And you have to be organized and a little OCD.”

“You have to do social media. You can’t just have a page with 200 friends. You have to live your social media.”

Plan it as giving something back, and the rewards will follow.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.




Jewelry Store Owner Rewards Her Staff With the Ultimate Adventure

The owner of a new Colorado jewelry store gave her sales team a steep challenge. In this one-minute excerpt of the latest "Over the Counter", hear how the goal was set ... and learn what she did when they reached their goal. Catch the full podcast here.

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Best of The Best

Milwaukee Jeweler Launches Diversity Internship Program

Store owner was inspired by mentoring program for underprivileged teen girls.



TOM DIXON, owner of Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers in Milwaukee, like many a jewelry storeowner, is frequently asked for donations to community causes. Often, he’d respond by donating a piece of jewelry. But the whole process lacked a cohesive goal and sometimes fell short of expectations.

“It seems sometimes like we’re spinning our wheels, giving things to people who maybe need it, but in general it tends to be more affluent groups asking for donations. I thought, let’s re-evaluate it and do something that’s meaningful with underfunded projects in Milwaukee where we can really make a difference.”

Dixon devised a framework for donations with the acronym EACH to benefit initiatives in the areas of education, arts, community and health. “Instead of giving everyone who asks $100 or $1,000, we can start a foundation and contribute some meaningful time and value and sweat equity.”

Dixon also believes there’s a racial divide in the city and a lack of diversity in the jewelry industry. The racial divide hit home when his store made national news in 2015. Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson told the media he’d been racially profiled when he visited the store to look at a Rolex. Due to what Dixon describes as a misunderstanding with police about Henson’s dealer license plate and a series of suspicious calls around the same time of the pro basketball player’s visit, employees decided not to use the buzzer system to open the door and instead called the police.


Dixon says everything possible went wrong leading up to that fateful moment, and other jewelry storeowners have told him it could easily happen to them, too.

“It was a circumstantial situation,” Dixon says. “We apologized. That was never in our hearts. But it made us want to say, ‘Here are the things we’re doing to try to make a change.’”

He wants to make a difference not only in the community but also in the jewelry industry by cultivating potential local talent. So he launched a paid internship program to reach out to young people of diverse backgrounds, who wouldn’t normally apply for jobs in his store. The focus is on young college women looking for summer jobs.

He teamed up with Milwaukee-based PEARLS for Teen Girls, which he describes as the most inspiring, remarkable organization he’s encountered. Last year, the group mentored 1,618 underprivileged girls across all racial and ethnic groups. Of the young women in the program, 100 percent graduated high school and were on track for college. PEARLS stands for Personal Responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership and Support. One of the important goals of the organization is to prevent teen pregnancy.

Dixon is working with Danita Bush, college and career readiness manager for PEARLS, who supports girls and young women as they navigate job, college and scholarship applications.
Dixon offered two paid internships this past summer to graduates of the PEARLS program.


PEARLS will help him reach out to young women who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to the jewelry industry. Dixon can offer sophisticated training in cooperation with high-end brand partners that include Roberto Coin and Rolex. He’d also be interested in sending interns to the GIA for education if they express a serious interest in pursuing jewelry as a career.

“Maybe we’ll get someone who really sticks and becomes part of our staff,” he says. “I’m open to finding artistic people to learn watchmaking or goldsmithing.”

“When I go to trade shows, I notice the lack of diversity. It’s an issue that we have got to deal with. I’m going to try to deal with it in my own world, here.”

Schwanke-Kastan Jewelers in Milwaukee.

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Best of The Best

OMI Gems President Builds Rock Star Following as a Jewelry Designer



Niveet Nagpal, above, and at far left, has become a personal jewelry adviser to clients of Ben Bridge Jewelers in El Paso, TX, thanks to skillful relationship-building at trunk shows.

WHEN MARY TODD-MCGINNIS, a Ben Bridge Jewelers vice-president, caught a glimpse in a trade magazine of an opal ring designed by Niveet Nagpal, president and head designer of Omi Privé, she was struck by its beauty and got on the phone immediately. This, despite the fact she’s not a buyer for the flagship store in El Paso, TX. 

First, she asked the store’s sales associates if they thought they had a customer for this distinctive piece. When they enthusiastically said yes, she called Omi Privé. Although the wholesale company was on its way to exhibit in Las Vegas, she convinced them to send it to her and if it didn’t sell immediately, she’d return it in time for the show.

Ring in hand days later, a sales associate called an opal-loving customer, who had never spent more than $800 on a piece of jewelry before. But she was so entranced by this one-of-a-kind opal ring that she wrote a check for $16,000 on the spot.

“It struck me that you don’t always know what you need before you see it,” Todd-McGinnis says. “As jewelers, our job is to create those wants and needs.”

Before long, she invited Nagpal, who has won multiple prestigious jewelry-design awards, to preside over two-day Omi Privé trunk shows at the store. The magic continued. Now he appears regularly and has developed close relationships with many of the store’s best customers, who have suddenly developed unprecedented deep pockets.

Todd-McGinnis realized that she needed to build excitement and create events to drive traffic into the store, which is in a strip mall. The trunk show was called “Night With Niveet,” and Nagpal quickly became a rock star of gemology and jewelry design in El Paso.

“He has become quite a celebrity among our cadre of customers who attend,” she says. “They want to hear about how he acquired a certain gemstone. They get one-on-one time with him and with our sales associates, and with me. And we talk about the craftsmanship involved. It builds the value of the pieces.”

Nagpal stays in touch with his El Paso “groupies” by text and phone at all hours and knows what’s going on in their lives. “It’s not just a business transaction. There’s an emotional connection,” he says.

There’s lore and legend associated with the events. One customer, who had a bit too much to drink, loved the jewelry so much that she almost left the store with about a million dollars worth of rings on her fingers. But eight months later, she bought her first Niveet original.

Nagpal even made a pendant to commemorate a husband and two cats. The customer originally wanted the ashes of her loved ones made into a diamond. But once Nagpal suggested incorporating the couple’s wedding bands into a pendant designed around a colored gemstone he chose for her — with symbolism that honored both cats and husband — she was happy to change her plans.

Nagpal said the relationship he has been able to develop directly with consumers drives sales for the store. Before attending a “Night With Niveet,” none of these customers had ever spent more than $5,000 for a piece of jewelry. Now, inspired by their friendship with a rock-star designer, they regularly spend $20,000 to $40,000. One sale was over $100,000.

Their attitude about buying jewelry has completely changed.

“Usually, they would come shopping for a gift or occasion with a number in mind,” Nagpal says. “But once they begin to understand the value and the rarity of the pieces, it becomes a very personal thing. It changes their mind-set. It’s more about what speaks to them, a custom piece, a gemstone, a piece already made. It’s an emotional attachment.”

His success working with customers in El Paso is based on communication, trust, honesty, and a great working relationship with the store.

Scenes from “Night With Niveet” at Ben Bridge Jewelers.

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Best of The Best

How Three Retailers Go the Extra Mile for Bridal Customers

Jewelry retailers go the extra mile for wedding customers.



Lock ‘em Up and Throw Away the Key Fakier Jewelers, Houma, LA

When Greg Fakier and his family designed their elegant new destination store in Houma, LA, (an honorable mention winner in the 2018 America’s Coolest Stores contest), one thing that appealed to them about the central downtown location was that it looked out over a Louisiana bayou. The location inspired the Fakiers to build a pergola overlooking the water, which is a romantic location for engagements and associated champagne toasts. They also built a gate to which couples could attach engraved locks to commemorate their love. After attaching the locks, couples hurl their keys into the water as part of the sentimental ritual. Since the store opened, Fakier has also invited couples who shopped for their rings in the past to participate. Everyone who attended the grand opening joined in the fun, too. The practice is inspired by the European custom of attaching “love locks” to public objects, most often bridges, fences and gates. The store’s design has a European flair, as well.

During the store’s grand opening, Greg and Manon Fakier invited everyone to try out the pergola. 

The Book of Love Mark Michael Diamond Designs, Maple Grove, MN

Mark Michael travels to Antwerp, Belgium twice a year with the IJO buying group. While there, he personally selects diamonds for clients who ask him to find the perfect centerpiece for their engagement ring or new jewelry design. Two years ago, he decided to make the experience even more intimate by taking photos of the diamond buying process for each client. The team then creates a 20-page personalized hard cover book featuring the story of their diamond and presents it as a gift to the couple with their diamond once it is set. The personalized approach adds an extra layer of customization to the diamond-buying experience, which customers have appreciated. With 83 Google reviews and a five-star rating, they’re doing something right!


Mark Michaels chooses diamonds for his customers during an IJO buying trip to Antwerp.

Design Cents Caleesi Designs Jewelers, Austin, TX

Caleesi Designs is known for its can-do spirit and customization. Usually, customers bring in heirloom diamonds to incorporate into engagement rings. But sometimes, custom requests can be more challenging. Owner Stephan Werbeck recently was asked to incorporate into an engagement ring a quarter that had been flattened by a train. The couple had tossed a quarter onto the train tracks during their first date and retrieved it after it was smashed. That coin then acquired symbolic, sentimental significance. The customer is a machinist, who made the ring out of steel. Werbeck was then able to inlay the edges of the quarter into the ring shank. Because the resulting effect was coppery, he used a rose-gold bezel to complement the quarter. He also sold them a diamond for the center. “It turned out to be stunning and it meant a lot to them,” Werbeck says. “I didn’t know what to expect, but they were beyond happy that it all came together the way it did.”

Stephen Werbeck inlaid the edge of a smashed quarter into an engagement ring at his customer’s request. 

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